The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday March 24th

SBP voter turnout contrasts apathy trend

With almost 3,000 more voters participating in the runoff election this year than in 2013, student leaders are wondering what triggered the increase.

In previous years, UNC student body president elections have suffered from scattered cases of voter apathy, with just 5,488 — not even 30 percent of the undergraduate body — voting in last year’s general election for example.

voter numbers

votes in this year’s runoff

votes in the 2013 runoff

votes in the 2012 runoff

percent voted for Powell

Tuesday night’s runoff election, however, garnered more than 7,000 votes, which is the most votes in either a runoff or general election since Mary Cooper was elected in 2011.

UNC Board of Elections Chairman Robert Windsor said he thinks the candidates — Emilio Vicente and Andrew Powell — played a major role in this season’s voting success.

“I want to say that (voting success) was because the candidates really pulled the issues to the forefront,” he said in an interview.

He said debates and platforms swirling around solutions for sexual assault, tuition and other pressing topics played a large role in the turnout.

This year, Vicente received 41 percent of the vote in the general election — but one week later, Powell received 62.9 percent of the vote.

And with that, more than 2,000 people voted in the runoff election compared to the general election.

But while UNC had its struggles with voter apathy, so have many other North Carolina public institutions.

At East Carolina University, about 17 percent of students voted in last year’s election — a number that Tim Schwan, student body president, wants to increase.

N.C. State, which has an undergraduate population of 24,536 students, had 4,056 participate in its general elections last year.

“We usually average about 10 percent of students voting in the elections,” said Simran Mann, chairwoman of the board of elections, in an email.

UNC-Greensboro student body president Crystal Bayne said less than 15 percent of students voted in the fall 2012 elections.

“We have almost 18,000 students, so that’s not a great number — 17,000 is a great number,” she said.

Windsor said he noticed social media presence during UNC’s election was surprisingly large.

“They used things like Thunderclap and Facebook events and hashtags,” he said. “They’re branching out into the social media spectrum.”

Amber Majors, a junior who said she typically doesn’t vote in student elections, decided to vote this year because Vicente appealed to her.

“People thought that someone with so much drive for one cause could not possibly see to others,” she said in an email. “For me, it meant the exact opposite. Rights for undocumented students is Emilio’s passion, but it’s not his only concern. As a black woman, I am part of one of the most marginalized groups in the U.S. And as a gay, undocumented person, so is Emilio.”

Windsor said one of the best ways to get more students to vote is for the candidates and their teams to publicize the election.

“The BOE is only composed of seven members, however each candidate can, in some cases, have a large retinue of students and resources to help advocate not only for the candidate, but for the election as a whole,” he said in an email.

Bayne said UNC-G struggles with the issue of lack of election awareness as well.

“If you don’t see any publicity, you can’t blame the students for not voting,” Bayne said. “Last year there was no publicity for the election and the reason people voted was because of social media.”

Windsor said he thinks the high number of voters was partly due to the number of important positions being voted on — Carolina Athletic Association president, Residence Hall Association president, and, of course, student body president.

“We had three major offices in the runoff and all of those helped pull 2,000-odd people extra,” he said.

Bayne said all students should be aware of why they should vote and what each vote does for the university.

“If people aren’t informed, they can’t vote,” she said. “I don’t think people understand the importance of student government.”

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